Surprise Red Bull slump not because of FIA flex-clampdown
"We now have to find out what happened"
Red Bull team figures have scotched suggestions the FIA’s new clampdown on flexible bodywork could explain the dominant Formula 1 team’s sudden slump.
After Max Verstappen won the last ten grands prix on the trot, with the energy drink owned team also collecting a full victory clean-sweep in 2023 so far, the Dutchman and Sergio Perez suddenly failed to even make ’Q3’ in Singapore.
It is the team’s worst result for five years.
"It’s definitely strange that they’ve been off the pace this weekend. Unusual," Mercedes driver George Russell, the meat in a Ferrari sandwich on the grid, said.
Verstappen said prior to the weekend that he expected to be less competitive on the floodlit streets, and it was the scene of his worst result of 2022.
The real issue for Red Bull is that the extent of the Singapore slump has shocked the team.
"It doesn’t matter whether I’m 11th, 15th or at the very back," Verstappen insisted. "For me it is much more important that we understand why things went so badly."
Red Bull’s technical guru Adrian Newey added: "We now have to find out what happened."
Even more odd is that the dominant 2023 car is suffering from multiple varied problems on top of poor handling and grip.
Verstappen complained about issues shifting up gears and said a bottoming floor was a "shocking experience", while Perez revealed that the Honda engine was also behaving strangely.
"We don’t understand what is going on," said the Mexican.
"I had a lag with the engine. When I hit the gas, I suddenly had a lot of power and couldn’t control the car. There are a lot of things going on and we have some suspicions, but we need to figure it all out and make sure we understand it properly."
Some have connected Red Bull’s sudden slump with the newly-enforced FIA clampdown on flexible wings and floors. Red Bull tried a new floor on Friday but then ultimately ran with the original specification.
Dr Helmut Marko denies the new part was in reaction to the FIA’s technical directive, which began to be enforced this weekend in Singapore.
"It (the floor) had been planned for a long time," Marko insisted. "It worked well in the simulator and promised more downforce."
One theory is that Red Bull was caught out by the smoother asphalt and altered track layout.
"It wasn’t taken into account that the newly asphalted areas are much smoother than they used to be," Marko said. "And when you’re so addicted to the technology, it takes too long for you to react.
"There was a fundamental mistake."
Interestingly, Red Bull’s rivals actually don’t believe the FIA clampdown explains the sudden slump.
"Everyone had to react to the directives in some way," Mercedes’ Toto Wolff admits. "Some more, others less.
"But you can’t say with one set of data what effect it really has."
McLaren boss Andrea Stella agreed: "I don’t know whether Red Bull is affected by this at all. And if they are, the effect would not explain such a big gap."
Verstappen, with an enormous 194-point lead over the nearest non-Red Bull in the drivers’ championship, was also asked whether the clampdown could explain the Singapore lag.
"I guess this question would come," he told Viaplay. "Let’s see next week at Suzuka.
"This is a street track and we tried to find a compromise, but we clearly did something wrong."
He also admitted that his record-breaking ten-race winning streak will almost certainly end on Sunday.
Marko agreed: "It had to happen at some point, but the fact that it hit us so badly here is difficult to understand."